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New youth small business program being offered in Sudbury

Rising to the occasion
Anne Cooper, the director of the Learning Initiative, which will deliver the program.

Celeste Miller has a York University arts degree in book publishing and experience as an editor for the university’s literary magazine, but since moving back to Sudbury, she’s finding it hard to launch her career.

Miller is hoping a new small business program offered by Sudbury’s Learning Initiative will give her the structure she needs to start her own business, offering author services to writers in the region.

“Right now I know exactly what I want to do for my clients, but I’m having a hard time structuring myself as a business,” said Miller. “I’ve done things like this over the years but I’ve never charged for this before.”

That structure is being offered by the Rise Youth Small Business Program, which launched a pilot project in Sudbury in September for people between the ages of 16 and 29.

The program is a project of Rise Asset Development, which is located in Toronto, and offers low interest small business loans, training, and mentorship for entrepreneurs with a self-identified history of mental health or addiction challenges. This can include depression, anxiety, a disability, or addiction, among other things.

The director of the Learning Initiative, Anne Cooper, jokes that half of the population could probably qualify. But she added, more seriously, that for many living with these experiences, the program’s added support is essential.

“We all have something that makes us very anxious to do,” agreed Miller, who said public speaking and personal promotion have always challenged her. “I never entered into my own equation. They’re focusing as much on the business as the business person to help you structure your life in a healthy way, rather than running yourself into the ground.”

That structure includes working with Sudbury’s Northern Initiative for Social Action (NISA) to develop wellness plans for participants that identify triggers and ways to overcome them.
The programs at NISA are open to the public, but through the program, participants are heavily encouraged and guided through the offerings.

As a human resource development company, the Learning Initiative offers a range of business programming and workshops. However, after the closing of the Ontario Self-Employment Benefit program (OSEB) for unemployed Ontarians, there’s been a gap in the services they offer for self-employment training, and business plan development.

Unlike OSEB, the Rise workshop has an age restriction and requires the self-identification of a mental health challenge, but it does not require participants to be unemployed or even underemployed.

“They can have already started their job, want to work part time, full time, seasonally or just learn,” said Cooper.

The Rise program is based on the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management business design model.

“It’s not overly different from what we did before, but they’ve packaged it with a customer-centric focus,” said Cooper. “There’s a nice shift to primary interviews and trying not to lead research.”

Cooper said they’ve had quite a bit of interest, and they’re hoping for a cohort of 18 to 20 students for the pilot.

“Often people have dabbled in something but it isn’t going anywhere yet,” said Cooper.“But you do have to have a good business idea and be ready to take it. It’s a real commitment.”

The classes run for 12 weeks, two nights a week, and the students must complete and present a business plan. After that, they can apply for a $500 completion grant, and access up to $10,000 in low-interest loans through Rise Asset Development.

For Miller, that money could be put towards expanding her client base and narrowing down exactly what she’ll be offering. She calls her area of expertise “author services,” and she hopes she can offer a one-stop-shop for writers to plan their publishing.

“I have several clients, so I’ve gotten a start, but I want to take it into a full-time business,” said Miller “I’m pretty excited about it. I know I have the work ethic for it, but I don’t always go about it in the right direction.”